Malaysia has rich aquatic ecosystems that supply vital resources such as water, food, medicine, commercial aquatic resources, energy and transport for economic and social development of its people. In addition, they also provide other services such as flood control, erosion prevention and shoreline protection, recreational fisheries and resources for tourism industry. However, the ubiquitous and abundant supplies of these resources in the past have resulted in minimal concern about their conservation and sustainable exploitation. In fact, these resources are continuously threatened by human activities such as overexploitation of living resources, massive land reclamation and development, discharge of harmful industrial and domestic wastes, and large energy development projects. Threats to the sustainability of these resources in the form of land-based and sea-based pollution are becoming serious, and have affected the health and wealth of the people. The manifestations of the disregard to the aquatic environment are already obvious, as evidenced by the frequent reports on water shortage, polluted rivers and seas, decrease in fisheries commodities, decline of aesthetic values in water-based recreational areas and decrease in biodiversity. Various laws and regulations have not been able to deter some of these ecosystems from being continually exploited on unsustainable basis. Concerted efforts from all stakeholders are critical to protect these valuable ecosystems such that their resources would continue to provide life necessities for generations to come. Preventive measures, such as the implementation of holistic environmental management, increased public education and the early use of efficient and cost-effective pollution control measures through research efforts and the acquisition of clean technology, should be implemented to achieve desired level of pollution abatement. These efforts by the Government should be complemented and supplemented by investments from the private sector to achieve a clean, healthy and productive aquatic environment for both present and future generations.

## Introduction

Malaysia is well endowed with varieties of aquatic ecosystems including rivers, lakes, reservoirs, swamps, mangroves, estuaries, lagoons and the seas. The aquatic environment and its resources form the vital lifeline for the Malaysian people, supplying them with food and water for domestic, agricultural and industrial use, medicine, energy and transportation. Currently, this environment which provides essential resources for human life is under threat which, if allowed to continue, will cease to function as an invaluable resource. Direct and indirect impacts of unsustainable economic development have caused degradation to these aquatic habitats, both inland and in the seas.

Although the rainfall in the country is high, with about 990 billion m3 falling over the Malaysian landmass annually (Keizrul and Juhaimi, 1997), water shortage is already rampant in many states. Despite numerous rivers and vast seas, the country has to import fish to supplement the domestic markets. The recreational areas such as beaches and rivers are threatened by siltation, sewage and industrial pollution. Water-based activities such as aquaculture are limited by good quality water supply and pollution. The grievances of the poor, especially small-scale fishermen, who are totally dependent on aquatic resources as their means of livelihood, are becoming common as many rivers and coastal waters are polluted by industrial wastes and sewage. These are early signals to further serious consequences of the environmental woes which, if left unattended, can eventually cripple the economic and social development of the country.

In light of the alarming rate of aquatic habitat loss and deterioration, a concerted effort by all sectors to protect these ecosystems is urgently needed. With the right approach to make the stakeholders aware of the dangers of environmental degradation, and with the application of effective technologies, the aquatic environment can be further optimized for resource and recreational purposes.

## Aquatic habitats

Major types of aquatic habitats in Malaysia include rivers, lakes, freshwater swamps, rice-fields, mangroves, freshwater peat swamps, mudflats and coastal waters (Table 1). These habitats occupy an area of about 39,000 km2 or more than 10% of the total land area of 330,000 km2 (Chew, 1996). Aquatic habitats are home to a large number of fishes, aquatic invertebrates and other wildlife species such as waterfowl, birds, monkeys and crocodiles. Mudflats support very rich benthic fauna and provide rich feeding grounds for both migratory and resident birds. Peat swamp forests are used by highly endangered animals such as Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis), proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus) and banded langur (Presbytis melalophos crucigere) (Chew, 1996).

Natural ecosystems such as lakes, streams, mangroves and coral reefs also provide additional revenue to the country through eco-tourism. Corals reefs off the Terengganu and Pahang states and around Langkawi Island have been major tourist destinations. Water-related activities such as SCUBA diving, snorkeling, swimming, wind surfing, boating and fishing are becoming increasingly popular. Kuala Selangor Nature Park is well-known for its mangrove flora and fauna, as well as migratory shorebirds. For a successful and sustainable tourism industry, it is crucial to enforce strict management procedures to maintain pristine conditions in these ecosystems.

## Inland waters

### Rivers

There are more than 150 major rivers, 100 of which are in Peninsular Malaysia and 57 in East Malaysia (JICA, 1982; Yap, 1991; Ho, 1994). The inland aquatic environment of Peninsular Malaysia is drained by three large river basins: Pahang River (drainage area 29,300 km2, length 430 km), Perak River (drainage area 14,700 km2, 400 km) and Kelantan River (drainage area 13,100 km2, 355 km).

In East Malaysia, the major rivers are Rajang (51,315 km2, 560 km), Baram (22,325 km2, 402 km), Lupar (6,745 km2, 210 km), Limbang (3,578 km2, 200 km) and Kinabatangan (16,581 km2, 365 km). High rainfall of 1600 to 5000 mm per year contributes greatly to the unceasing flow of freshwater in the fluvial system within most watersheds. Forests play an important role in the hydrological cycle and retainability of water, to maintain the incessant flow to rivers and lakes. In Malaysia, about 56% of the land is still covered by forest (Ho, 1994). Due to the importance of forests in freshwater supply, it is important that all developments should include considerations in the management and conservation of forests.

### Lakes, reservoirs, swamps and rice-fields

There are only a few natural lakes in Malaysia. Some large ones include Cini and Bera lakes in Pahang and Logan Bunut in Sarawak. Man-made lakes include reservoirs such as Pergau in Kelantan, Temenggur in Perak, Kenyir in Terengganu and Batang Ai in Sarawak. Many oxbow lakes, especially in East Malaysia are found along lower reaches of major rivers such as Baram and Limbang in Sarawak, and Kinabatangan, Sugut and Segama in Sabah. There are 51 man-made lakes in Malaysia, 46 of which are located in Peninsular Malaysia, three in Sabah and two in Sarawak (Ho, 1994). The numbers are expected to rise over the next few years to meet the increasing demand for water. Furthermore, there is a significant amount of ground-water recharge in Malaysia (20 billion m3 yr1 in Peninsular Malaysia, 14 billion m3 per year in Sabah and 30 billion m3 yr−1 in Sarawak).

Freshwater swamps, which have high biodiversity, are common along rivers. Freshwater swamp forests provide an effective form of flood prevention along river valleys. Gelam is a freshwater swamp where the vegetation is almost exclusively of gelam trees (Melaleuca cajeputi), and occupies areas of alluvial flats along the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, especially in Kelantan and Terengganu (Chew, 1997). Nipa swamps occur further downstream in brackish and freshwater areas of tidal influence. Nipa swamps consist of monospecific stands of palm Nypa fruticans and they form huge swamps in delta areas such as the Sarawak Mangrove Forest Reserve and the Klias Peninsular in Sabah (Chew, 1997).

Peat swamp forests occur where water-logging and anaerobic conditions prevail. Partial inhibition of vegetation decay gives rise to peat formation. The peat releases tannin and organic acids in water resulting in a pH value of 3–4 and black water. The total area of peat swamp forest in Peninsular Malaysia was historically 6,700 km2, but had been reduced to 3,400 km2 by 1991 (Shamsudin Ibrahim and Chan, 1995). In Sarawak, peat swamp forest is the major forest type of the coastal environment with a total area of 7,600 km2 and was declared as a permanent forest reserve in 1994 (Shamsudin Ibrahim and Chan, 1995). This forest type is an important renewable resource for timber and plays an important role in flood prevention.

Rice fields are man-made wetlands. They are found mainly in Krian Perak, Kedah, Perlis, Sekinchan and Tanjung Karang in Selangor, and the northern part of Kelantan. In 1993/94, 1,945 km2 of wet paddy was planted during the main seasons (DoA, 1996). Fishes from rice fields formed an important source of protein for local consumption, but their popularity has declined due to heavy use of pesticides in paddy planting (Tan et al., 1973). Furthermore, new varieties of paddy require a shorter submerged period that is not suitable for rice-cum fish culture.

There are over 4,300 abandoned mining pools, covering an area 164.4 km2, especially in Perak (2,873 pools), Selangor (542), Johore (280) and Pahang (229), where mining was once an important economic activity. About 271 mining pools with a total surface area of 11.6 km2 are used for aquaculture. Besides aquaculture, these mining pools are also used as water sources, for recreation and waste disposal (Arumugam, 1994).

## Importance of inland aquatic ecosystems

### Water supply and purification

Over 99% of the world's water is found in oceans. However, the relatively small amount which occurs in freshwater lakes and rivers supports much terrestrial life. The demands upon freshwater by both the population and industrial growth are monumental. Thus, fresh water is a finite resource which has to be managed wisely to sustain human life. Rivers, ponds, lakes, and impoundments are important sources of water. Peat swamps also serve an important function of water supply since their high porosity enable a large volume of water to be absorbed during heavy rainfalls and then slowly released during the dry season, thus ensuring continuous supply of water throughout the year. A good example of water supply during the dry season is the North Selangor peat swamp, where water is extracted for the Sekinchan and Tanjung Karang rice fields. Vegetation in lakes, swamps and flood plains also function as filters as they tend to slow down the flow rate of water and absorb toxicants or facilitate deposition of sediments.

### Natural products

Peat swamp forests produce a variety of commercial timber such as ramin (Gonystylus bancanus) and bintangor (Calophyllum ferrugineum var. ferrugineum) (Chew, 1996). Wetland habitats also provide other products such as medicinal plants and fruits. Leaves of mengkuang (Pandanus sp.) can be used for basket and mat weaving and leaves of nipa can be used for cigarette wrappers and roofing materials. Although swamp forests are low in productivity due to acidic waters, highly coloured and valuable fish species for aquariums are found in this system (IPT-AWB, 1993).

### Flow regulation and flood mitigation

Lakes and swamps can retain large amounts of flood as surface waters, thus reducing the volume of immediate downstream flood water. The peat, which can be 90% porous, is able to absorb and store excess amounts of water. In general, the wetland vegetation slows down the water flow, thus the river flows are maintained for a longer period each year.

## Marine environment

With 42,330 km2 of coastal zone, 4,675 km of coastline and 549,500 km2 of sea (Shamsudin Ibrahim and Chan, 1995; Japar Sidik et al., 1995), the marine environmental resources of Malaysia are equally rich. The environment is endowed with rich marine ecosystems such as mangroves, mudflats, sea-grasses, coral reefs, lagoons and estuaries. At present, more than 38 islands around the country have been declared as marine parks (DoE, 2003).

### Mangroves and mudflats

Mangroves cover a total area of 6,410 km2, approximately 52% of Malaysia's coastline (Shamsudin Ibrahim and Chan, 1995; Chew, 1996; Zauwiyah and Alias, 1997). Peninsular Malaysia has about 1,400 km2 of mangrove forest (Gong et al., 1994; Zauwiyah and Alias, 1997), but this has decreased by approximately 35%, especially in the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia due to domestic, industrial and agricultural development (Japar Sidik, 1994). Sabah has the largest mangrove area (3,654 km2), more than three times that of Peninsular Malaysia (Ridzwan and Alex, 1997). Clear-cutting of mangrove forests in Sabah has been banned since the 1980's.

Mangroves are salt-tolerant, seed-bearing woody plants of which more than 50 species are present in Asia. The species composition of trees in each mangrove area ranged from a single species to over 30 species (Gong et al., 1994). Mangroves are economically significant as nursery grounds for nearshore fisheries, as natural barriers to coastal erosion and as renewable sources of forest products. Mangroves are highly productive systems that export large quantities of detritus to the marine environment to form nutritious food sources for marine animals found in mangrove areas, coral reefs, sea-grass beds and estuaries. Gong et al. (1994) reported that over 117 fish species and 17 shrimp species were found in the Matang Mangrove Forest Reserve. Mangrove mudflats and estuaries in Selangor supported 102 fish species and 11 shrimp species (Sasekumar et al., 1991). Approximately 213 species of mammals, reptiles, amphibians and birds utilize mangroves as feeding and nursery grounds, and for shelter (Low et al., 1994). The mangroves stabilize fine sediments, thereby helping coasts to accrete and they improve water quality by extracting nutrients from the potentially eutrophic waters. Mangroves managed on a 30-year rotation as a renewable forestry resource, were estimated to offer an annual return ranging from US$3,300 ha− 1 as firewood and US$9000 ha− 1 as charcoal. The value of mangrove fisheries is estimated to be up to three times higher than the same resource used for forestry purposes (Asian Development Bank, 1991).

Mudflats are the dominant features of the coastline on the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak. They are usually associated with mangrove forests, especially if the mangrove area is in the phase of active accretion. The mudflats of the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia are very productive, producing 72,000 mt of marketable cockles and 11,000 mt of cockle seeds (Mohd. Mazlan, 2000).

### Coral reefs

Coral reefs are well developed in shallow and warm tropical seas. Corals are found along the coast of Kuala Terengganu to Chukai and around the offshore islands in the South China Sea, the Straits of Malacca and the Sulu Sea (Ridzwan, 1995). Ridzwan (1995) reported 346 species of scleractinian corals in Malaysian waters, and this list is not exhaustive due to the lack of a full-time coral taxonomist. About 64% of the coral reefs surveyed since mid-1980s are in fair condition, with an average of 25–50% live coral cover (Ridzwan, 1995). Coral reefs are among the most productive ecosystems in the world supporting 490–1450 kg ha− 1 of living matter and about 5 tons km− 2 of marine fisheries (Asian Development Bank, 1991). Ridzwan (1995) reported that a total of 426 species in 40 families of coral-reef fishes are found in coral reefs in Malaysia. In western Sabah, reef species account for 25% of the total fishery catch (Asian Development Bank, 1991). In many countries, the aesthetic and recreational aspects of coral reefs support the rapidly increasing tourism industry. In addition, the export market for coral and reef fishes is lucrative. However, corals are very susceptible to the adverse impacts of development on the shore, such as excessive freshwater inflow, sedimentation, pollutants and high nutrient runoff. In Malaysia, destruction and deterioration of coral reefs are attributed to sedimentation, coral mining, fisheries and recreational activities. Coral reefs in the Straits of Malacca are less diverse, consisting of only 35.9%–39.6% of the total number of species, probably due to higher stress conditions in the Straits compared to the South China Sea. It was observed that bleached corals in the South China Sea recovered at a faster rate than those in the Straits of Malacca. Goh and Sasekumar (1980) noted 41 coral species at Port Dickson (Cape Rachado) about 20 years ago, but the reefs have been degraded through siltation and unrestricted collection (Gopinath et al., 2001). At present, corals reefs are subjected to pollution, especially from turbidity and sedimentation resulting from land-use activities in the adjacent coastal areas.

### Marine algae and plants

Wong et al. (2000) recorded 206 macroalgal species in the Straits of Malacca. They are important sources of food, carragenan, agar, alginic acid, fertilizer, medicine and animal feed (Phang, 1998). Even if they are not harvested for human consumption, the meadows of marine algae perform essential ecological functions in the marine ecosystem. Like other resources in the Straits, the species and production of macroalgae are also declining. Noro et al. (2000) noted that the biomass of a macroalga, Sargassum, was reduced by the silty and muddy conditions of the sea water.

Sea-grass beds are found along the coastal waters of the west and east coasts and the southern part of Peninsular Malaysia, west and south-eastern coasts of Sabah, and near reef atolls of the South China Sea (Japar Sidik et al., 1995). Sea-grasses are marine plants which grow on soft sediments in shallow, nearshore waters in sheltered areas. Most sea-grasses occur between the low-water mark and a depth of 30 m, with more developed species forming dense beds at greater depths. Sea-grass is also a highly productive ecosystem, on par with coral reefs. Sea-grasses have no major commercial use, but their economic value lies in their functions as shelter and food sources for nearshore fisheries as well as for marine reptiles and mammals. They also play an important role in coastal stabilization as the grasses trap loose sediments. Japar Sidik et al. (1995) reported that there are 14 sea-grass species in Malaysia, second only to the Philippines in species diversity in the ASEAN region.

The Straits of Malacca support large areas of sea-grass beds, consisting of 12 sea-grass species, especially in Johore, Malacca, Port Dickson, Pangkor, Penang and Langkawi (Japar Sidik et al., 2001). The health of the sea-grass ecosystems is important to support other marine life such as fishes, turtles and marine mammals. Arshad et al. (2001) reported that 25 fish species, especially juveniles and major commercial crustaceans, such as penaeid shrimps and portunid crabs were found in the sea-grass beds. Mohd. Mazlan (2000) indicated that many of the sea-grass beds have been destroyed by trawling activities since their introduction in the 1960's.

### Lagoons and estuaries

Lagoons and estuaries are coastal embayments which are connected to the sea and have water diluted by fresh water. The entire system is maintained by a complex pattern of water circulation, which replenishes nutrients and removes waste products. Productivity of estuaries and lagoons are higher than marine or freshwater ecosystems, due to high nutrients entrapped in the system, high solar energy and a high mixing rate. The same factors also make estuaries susceptible to pollution, as pollutants such as petroleum by-products, heavy metals and persistent pesticides become trapped and accumulated in this system. Because of their sheltered nature, lagoons and estuaries have been highly valued as sites for ports and harbours, industry and residential areas on the adjacent land. They have frequently been used as dumping grounds for domestic and industrial waste. At the same time, fisheries, shell fisheries and mariculture are mainly based in estuaries and lagoons.

## Functions of marine ecosystems

### Maintenance of fisheries production

In their natural states, mangroves, sea-grasses, mudflats, coral reefs, swamps, and rivers are of great socio-economic importance due to their multi-functions. They serve as important feeding, spawning and nursery grounds, and shelters for many commercially important fish, shrimp and shellfish species, thereby supporting the fishing industry. Reef fishes constitute a significant amount of the total fish landings in Sabah, Terengganu and Pahang (Ridzwan, 1995). The mudflats are rich in bivalves and crustaceans.

### Shoreline protection and erosion control

Mangrove forests and coral reefs protect the coastline from erosion. The raised root systems of mangroves reduce the impact of the current on the soil. Coral reefs serve as wave-breakers and replenish coral sand particles to beaches (Ridzwan, 1995). In 1991, there were 67 critical coastal erosion areas in the country (Chew, 1996). Ironically, the state governments spend millions on coastal protection, yet cut down mangroves which are the most effective and inexpensive form of protection. It has been estimated that the prevention of erosion cost is ten times greater than the benefits that would be derived by not cutting the mangroves.

### Prevention of salt water intrusion

Mangrove and peat swamp ecosystems play an important role in preventing the entry of saline water into a river (Howe et al., 1991). By maintaining a steady flow, especially during dry periods, these ecosystems ensure the saline water does not penetrate too far upstream. For underground water, especially in coastal areas where the underlying substrate is permeable, a layer of fresh water is maintained by coastal freshwater wetlands, and frequently overlays deeper saline water. Thus, removal or reduction of the freshwater wedge will allow the deeper saline water to move upwards towards the land surface, where it can affect domestic and agricultural water supplies.

## Fisheries resources

Being a land rich in aquatic resources, fishes are inevitably an integral part of the Malaysian life. The national per capita consumption of fishes is 36 kg (Tan, 1998), indicating the vital role of fish and fisheries products in the nutritional status of the Malaysian population, as this represents 60–70% of the total protein consumption. (Wan Rahimah and Adinan, 1992; Mohd. Mazlan, 1997, 2000).

### Inshore fisheries

The inshore fisheries contributed 1,114,669 mt in 2000 (valued at US$1.02 billion), 86.7% of the total marine fish landing in Malaysia (DoF, 2000). In terms of area of landing, the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia contributed 50.9%, east coast of Peninsular Malaysia 24.2%, and the East Malaysia 24.8%. Deep-sea catches amounted only to a total of 171,027mt valued at US$134.8 million.

### Aquaculture

Aquaculture production in Malaysia contributes only about 11–12% of the total fish production. Aquaculture production in 2000 was 167,894 mt valued at US$255.34 million (DoF, 2000). The relatively low production levels are a reflection of the relative youth of the industry, which only began in the early 1930s with the introduction of freshwater fish culture. However, in recent years, the industry has expanded rapidly with strong support from the government. Freshwater aquaculture produced 50,688 mt, an increase of about 36% compared to production in 1996 (DoF 1996a, 2000). In 2000, marine aquaculture produced 117,206 mt of fish valued at US$117 million. There are several systems that are employed in aquaculture production. The most common are ponds, which are usually excavated. However, in some areas, old tin mining pools are also employed for fish culture. The fish culture in floating net cages also represents an important aquaculture system and is normally carried out in deeper mining pools, reservoirs and lakes. Aquarium fish farming is carried out using a combination of aquaria, tanks and small ponds. It is one of the most rapidly developing sectors in the aquaculture industry.

### Pond culture

Pond culture represents the most dominant aquaculture system employed in the country. Ponds are used for both cultivation of freshwater fishes and prawns, as well as marine shrimp (especially penaeids). In 1995, there were 31,350 ponds with a gross surface area of 91.5 km2, but in 2000, the number of ponds increased to 43,578 with an area of 124.9 km2. In addition, there were 271 mining pools with a total surface area of 11.6 km2 used for aquaculture. These mining pools were part of a larger resource of over 4,300 disused mining pools, covering an area 164.4 km2, especially in Perak, Selangor, Johore and Pahang, where mining was once an important economic activity. Besides aquaculture, these mining pools are also used for water supply, recreation and waste disposal (Arumugam, 1994).

In 1995, freshwater ponds were the major contributor in aquaculture production, producing 61% of total pond output (DoF, 1996a). However, in 2000, brackish water ponds formed the major contributor with products valued at US$130.3 million compared to US$50.7 million from freshwater ponds (DoF, 2000).

### Cage culture

The culture of fish in floating cages was introduced into the country only in the early 1970's (Chua, 1979). It has since become a major industry, particularly in the production of marine fishes. In the early 1980's, culture of freshwater fishes, particularly Chinese carps in cages, began in Chenderoh, and in 1978 in the Durian Tunggal reservoirs (Ismail, 1992). However, the absence of suitable feeds and limited demand for cultured fishes became major hurdles and many operations were forced to close down.

However, floating cage culture made a comeback in the late 1980's with commercial production of red tilapia, mainly for the live market. Cage farming has been rapidly expanding over the last few years and promises to be a major industry in the future. There has been a significant increase in cage culture area from 326,390 m2 in 1991 to 794,785 m2 in 1995, to 1.04 million m2 in 2000. Production in 2000 amounted to 11,895 mt, giving an average production of about 11.5 kg m− 2, compared to 9.2 kg m− 2 in 1995 (DoF, 1996a, 2000).

### Aquarium fish culture

Prior to the 1980's, aquarium fish farming was a backyard activity with little economic value. Only a limited number of fish species were cultured. Most were collected from streams and rivers. However, as pollution began to decimate natural stocks, farming became a necessity. The industry has since then grown very rapidly and spread to other states as well. In 1995, the country produced 253 million aquarium fishes valued at about US$19.6 million (DoF, 1996a). In 2000, 306 million individuals valued at US$18.9 million were produced, a drop of about 10% compared to 1999 production (340.4 million individuals). About 200 varieties of tropical ornamental fishes are being produced and traded in this country.

## Consequences of unsustainable development

In Malaysia, economic development is proceeding at a rapid pace, which inevitably results in adverse changes in the natural environment. Among these changes are the impacts on the hydrology and ecology of rivers and coastal waters. Despite water quality standards implemented under the Environmental Quality Act 1974, observations made in mid 1980's to late 1990's clearly indicate an increasing trend of pollution. In Malaysia, only the upper 10–20% reaches of rivers in 8 out of 13 states were found to be free from high levels of suspended solids (Jaafar, 1986). Based on the water quality index, 77% of the 116 rivers monitored have deteriorated and only 20% have improved between 1988 and 1994 (DoE, 1996b). The number of polluted rivers consistently increased from the mid 1980's and remained constant at 12% during 1994–1995 (DoE, 1996a, 1996b). In 2002, 15% of the river basins were still polluted and 33% were classed as slightly polluted (DoE, 2003).

There is also a growing concern of possible contamination of ground-water through haphazard disposal of toxic waste (DoE, 1992). Beginning in 1997, the Department of the Environment began its groundwater monitoring and, in 2000, there were 79 monitoring stations at 48 sites in the Peninsular Malaysia (DoE, 2000). In 2000, ground water at industrial sites was found to have parameters exceeding the benchmark levels.

Silt from earthwork and land-clearing activities, and organic loadings from sewage and discharges from agro-based and manufacturing industries are the major contributors to aquatic pollution (DoE, 1996a, 1996b; Rahani and Tan, 1997; DoE, 2000). In 2000, 6,457 domestic sewage facilities (46%), 6,019 manufacturing industries (43%) and 1,516 (11%) agro-based industries caused aquatic pollution in the country (DoE, 2000). The number of pollution sources has increased tremendously compared to those in 1993, which registered 2,969 manufacturing industries and 461 agro-industries (DoE, 1996b).

In the marine environment, total suspended solids, oil and grease, and Escherichia coli are the main contaminants of the coastal waters, exceeding the proposed interim marine water quality standards (DoE, 2000). Activities such as coastal reclamation, road construction, and land-clearing for agriculture, tourism development (hotels and resorts) without adequate control and protection measures resulted in erosion and sedimentation in the coastal waters. Oil and grease remained a significant problem in areas with active maritime activities such as the Straits of Malacca. Discharges from vessels such as deballasting, tank cleaning, bilging and bunkering were the most significant activities contributing to the oil and grease in the water.

Reservoirs are also not spared from pollution. The increasing development around reservoirs increases their vulnerability to eutrophication. The high siltation, caused by mining and logging activities in the upstreams, prevents the culture of the most highly-valued fish species (Khoo, 1991), and limits aquatic farming to hardier fishes like Chinese carps and clariid catfish which command lower market prices. The siltation of the reservoir has resulted in rapid proliferation of aquatic macrophytes. Ringlet Reservoir (in Pahang State) was plagued with water hyacinth, costing the government millions of dollars for its control (Ho, 1992).

The long-term prospects for swamp lands also do not look optimistic. The perception that they are wastelands, have made swamps a prime target for reclamation. Already, about 700,000 ha of these wetlands have been converted to agriculture (Ismail, 1992) and more are likely to be drained and opened up with growing population pressures.

Pollution also takes its toll on riverine fisheries. Ho (1994) estimated that the Gombak River in Selangor lost about 60 percent of its indigenous fish species over the last 20 years due to aquatic pollution. The Perak River has also lost six of the nine commercially important riverine fish species over the last 15 years (Khoo et al., 1987). The catch of freshwater giant prawn (Macrobrachium rosenbergii) has been reduced to about 50% within a decade in Tanjung Tualang due to suspended solids in the Kinta River and its tributaries (Ho, 1994).

The destruction of aquatic habitats can cause severe damage to water-based industries such as fisheries. Mohsin and Ambak (1983) reported that Malaysia has about 382 of freshwater fish species, but 118 of them are rare or already extinct, and 59 fishes are endangered. Major threats to fish diversity in Malaysia include deforestation and the resulting siltation of rivers, habitat destruction and alteration, and pollution (Zakaria-Ismail, 1992, 1997).

A major constraint in inland fisheries management is that under the Constitution, rivers are a state prerogative. There is no federal agency that would effectively police watershed or river development. The fact that a river becomes someone else's problem when it flows out of the state also discourages long-term development of riverine resources. As of 1994, only five states have enacted Inland Fisheries Regulations (Ismail, 1992). Nonetheless, inland fisheries, both as a source of food as well as for recreational fisheries, are gaining recognition as a source of revenue.

In general, pollution has reduced the diversity of flora and fauna in many rivers, lakes and near-shore waters. Other causes of decreasing diversity and production are dam construction, alteration of river courses, sand-mining, deepening of riverbeds, and reclamation of swamps and coastal waters. At the present rate of development, many of the aquatic habitats have been converted for other uses such as infrastructure development, aquaculture and agriculture. Some of the main development activities which adversely affect the aquatic environment if not properly carried out are discussed in the following sections.

### Urbanisation and land development

Due to the growing demand for land, many lakes and mining ponds have been filled, thus destroying freshwater habitat. Reclamation of land from sea has resulted in sedimentation of beaches, and alteration of natural ecosystems. To date, there have been 76 reclamation projects involving 384 km2 of land (See and Tan 1997). Coral reefs are seriously affected by sedimentation from large-scale land development such as that of Redang Island.

### Industrial development

Industrial development in the mid 1980's and early 1990's involved massive clearing of lands and reclamation of wetlands. Consequently, not only was valuable aquatic habitat lost, but soil erosion in the catchment areas resulted in serious siltation and sedimentation, leading to degradation of river and sea water quality (Zauwiyah and Alias, 1997).

Due to the lack of strict implementation of environmental laws, many of these industries discharge large volumes of waste water which pollute water bodies. Food manufacturing and processing plants, such as abattoirs, meat canning and packaging plants, the refining of edible oils and fats, and the canning and preserving of fruits, vegetables and marine products, all release effluents which have high organic matter resulting in high biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) and suspended solids. Other industries also discharge effluents containing toxic compounds such as heavy metals into watercourses (DoE, 2000). Furthermore, development in the marine sector such as ports and harbours, unless carefully planned, could conflict with other uses such as fisheries and coastal forestry.

### Energy development

Energy development projects are a critical component of national economic development goals. Electric power is generated by thermal power plants, or by hydropower projects. Hydropower does not have the pollution problems associated with other forms of power generation. However, problems arise because dams and reservoirs cause extensive manipulation of the natural drainage pattern (Hart et al., 2002). Changes in stream flow below the dam result in changes of stream habitat and its fauna. The effect of reduced sediment supply from streams and rivers to beaches can be serious as it normally results in erosion.

The impacts of spilled oil on marine plants and animals can be serious, as can the laying of buried pipelines on a seabed which can cause sediment disturbance during trench excavation. The disruptive effects of such fine sediment on sea-grass, corals, fishes, crabs and shellfishes in a sheltered body of water can be marked (Penkal and Phillips, 1984).

### Natural resource extraction

Natural resource extraction of tin, copper and petroleum has been developed to exploit non-renewable resources. In all cases, the tailings (sludge) left after minerals have been extracted consist of a mixture of water, mud and chemicals used in the extraction process. The tailings are either impounded behind a dam (a tailing dam), or discharged into an adjacent water body. Rivers in rich mining areas such as the Kinta Valley, Perak are highly silted. Drilling of petroleum in the South China Sea has resulted in high concentrations of oil in the water and sediment especially near the oil field platforms (Law, 1994).

### Solid waste disposal and sewage

With the increase of urban population and rapid economic development, waste disposal is becoming a serious environmental issue, which requires immediate attention. Generally, dumping waste in the sea (most with dilution in mind) continues to be an attractive proposition as long as the serious and indirect consequences remain poorly documented and presented. As a result, sewage forms a major pollutant in the aquatic environments of the country, especially in the rivers and coastal waters. Malaysia produces more than 5 million tons of sewage each year (Rahani and Tan, 1997). Popular resorts such as the coasts of Penang and Port Dickson are jeopardised by sewage pollution. The formation of the consortium, under the provision of Sewerage Services Act in late 1993, was to manage the growing sewerage problem in the country (Rahani and Tan, 1977).

### Construction activity

Construction practices that are potentially damaging to aquatic ecosystems include excavation and dredging, land-filling, disposal of metallic waste and other construction debris into rivers, estuaries and coastal waters. Landfills particularly for large projects, such as airports, that block circulation and long-shore transport permanently destroy large areas of valuable ecological habitat (DoE, 2000).

### Agriculture

Large areas of freshwater swamp are the most severely threatened wetland habitat in Malaysia. Many wetlands have been reclaimed for agricultural purposes. Peat swamps have been converted to agriculture, especially oil palm plantation, although peat-swamps are only of marginal use for agriculture. Ibrahim and Harun (1991) estimated about 1622 ha year− 1 was cleared for agriculture between 1982 and1988 in Kuala Langat South Peat Swamp Forest. Conversion of mangrove to agriculture rarely produces long-term results, as the soils are potential acid sulphate soils. When they dry, rapid oxidation of iron sulphites forms sulphuric acid. As the pH decreases, toxic levels of aluminium are also released. Application of gypsum or lime may counter the process temporarily. Other problems associated with using mangrove as agriculture land include flood and salt water intrusion. The cost-benefit analyses of agriculture projects in mangrove areas did not take into account the roles of mangroves in supporting fisheries, forestry values, and coastal erosion control (Anonymous, 1997).

### Aquaculture

Mariculture involves construction of ponds in the inter-tidal zone. Most environmental problems arise due to the conversion of mangrove forest to aquaculture ponds which result in destruction and degradation of mangroves and associated mudflats (Sasekumar, 1997). Huge quantities of groundwater pumped for an aquaculture project resulted in the drying up of nearby wells and salt-intrusion, such as in the case of the large aquaculture project in Pahang peat swamp forest. In cage culture, excess feed and feces may cause eutrophication of the surrounding waters.

On the other hand, aquaculture industry is currently threatened by pollution from other sources. Entrepreneurs face huge losses as fish are killed by toxic waste and eutrophication. In October 1997, 70 fish farms (with fish valued at approximately US$200,000) of Teluk Jawa village in the Tebrau Straits were destroyed by toxic effluents from nearby factories (Anonymous, 1998). Oil slicks resulting from tanker collision (the Cyprus-registered Evoikos and the Thailand-registered Oraphin Global) in Singapore waters on 15th October 1997 threatened 73 fish and 3 shrimp farms, with commodities worth more than US$2 million, in Kukup, Johore (Oorjitham, 1997; Nathan 1998).

### Commercial fisheries

This activity is detrimental to the environment if destructive practices such as the use of dynamite, and cyanide, and fishing and trawling in shallow waters are used. Use of explosives can destroy corals, and targeted and non-targeted fish populations would suffer massive mortality (Ridzwan and Alex, 1997). Failure to recognize sustainable fishing yields usually results in overexploitation of the resource. The use of excessive amounts of fishing effort can cause a decrease in the biomass of fish stocks to levels below those associated with long-term, sustainable and efficient production (Abu-Talib, 2002). In fact, the commercial fisheries sector is the most affected by other forms of development, especially the degradation of the inland aquatic and coastal environment, as well as by marine based events such as oil spills.

### Recreation and Tourism

Recreation and tourism industries require attractive environmental conditions, but these activities, if unregulated, can cause a serious impact and significantly damage the habitats. Coral collection by tourists can significantly destroy the reef (Chew, 1997; Ridzwan and Alex, 1997). Situation of hotels and resorts on beach fronts and lakes can cause eutrophication of the waters unless a proper sewage system is employed. Similarly, maintenance of golf courses, which requires heavy use of pesticides and fertilizers cause high concentrations of these chemicals in the receiving waters.

## Remedial measures

In view of the importance of aquatic resources to the nation, it is therefore crucial to take steps to ensure that aquatic habitats are preserved and the resources are enhanced. Some of the ways to achieve these objectives are described in this section:

### Integrated and holistic environmental management

There should be a specific agency to manage and control aquatic environments and related ecosystems as the health of these ecosystems is influenced not only by water-based projects, but also by land-based activities. Currently, aquatic ecosystems are managed by various departments each with its specific interest. The fisheries sector is handled by the Department of Fisheries, water supply by the state Department of Water Works, and the forest sector by the Department of Forestry. Furthermore, land matters are under the jurisdiction of the state authorities. The shortage of water for domestic and industrial use is mainly due to inadequate management of the watershed. The Durian Tunggal Reservoir in Malacca dried up in early 1991 and the water supply in the Hulu Langat reservoir was recently contaminated; both examples of poor watershed management. To protect the sustainability of water resources and enhance the aquatic productivity, an integrated and holistic approach to environmental management should be practiced, and conflicting roles and objectives of different sectors in the country should be resolved.

### Education and public awareness

Increase in awareness programs for policy makers, government officials, and the public need to be intensified. Although environmental education has been emphasized in the new secondary school curriculum (Chelliah, 1983; Gan, 1987), further programs have to be enforced in private sectors and offered to the general public. Public participation in the planning and management of aquatic habitats and resources should be promoted. Each institution, department, agency, and industry should have their own in-house environmental programs. Non-government organizations such as the Malayan Nature Society, Malaysian Society of Marine Science, Malaysian Fisheries Society and Consumers' Association of Penang should play a bigger role in increasing public awareness on issues related to the aquatic environment. To date, the mass media has played an impressive role in highlighting the environmental woes of the country and this effort should be continued without fear or favour.

### Laws and regulations

Malaysia has quite comprehensive legislative measures to regulate the release of wastes from land-based sources (Rahani and Tan, 1997). However, it has yet to develop a complete set of regulations to control oceanic waste sources. The Environment Quality Act (EQA) of 1974-Laws of Malaysia Act 127, regulates the release of wastes from all sources except those from mining, offshore exploration and exploitation, agriculture, logging and earthworks. The Department of Environment jurisdiction is limited to pollution arising from agriculture-based and manufacturing industries, sewage treatment plants and merchant shipping. Other forms of pollution remain under the general responsibility of the resource development agencies, such as PETRONAS for offshore oil and gas, and the Department of Mines for other types of mining. Although discharge controls are the main instrument of water pollution control now used in Malaysia, it is recognized that it is inadequate to cope with the complex and interlocking problems of the nation's freshwater and marine environments. Hence, aquatic pollution control should be supported by an integrated and comprehensive long-term plan.

In Malaysia, attainment of effective environmental management is made difficult due to the sharing of responsibilities between federal and state authorities. Since this issue regularly arises as the main constraint for effective environmental law enforcement, it should be resolved immediately so that smooth implementation of the regulations can be enforced. In addition, it is important that all laws and regulations are strictly implemented and enforced.

### Make polluters pay

In Malaysia, pollution was not a problem in the past as it was an agrarian country. However, with rapid industrialization, air and water pollution is now becoming a serious problem. In late 1997, the country encountered the worst air pollution in its history, as well as drinking water contamination by diesel gasoline which caused hardship to the public, and cost millions in losses to industries and businesses. At the same time, 23 out of 27 drinking water sources in Selangor were reported to be polluted with industrial waste and animal wastes, heavy metal and sewage (Rajah, 1997). To deter pollution, it is only fair to make the polluters compensate for the loss of resources, as well as the hardships incurred to the public. Heavy penalties will be a quick lesson to other entrepreneurs. In Japan, it is estimated that it costs 100 times more to remedy the environmental pollution than to pay for preventive measures.

### Maintenance of river quality

Some rivers have been studied and classified using the interim national water quality standards (INWQS) in order to develop strategies for better management of water resources in the country (Tong and Goh, 1997; Norhayati et al., 1997; Lim and Seng, 1997; Mohd Kamil et al., 1997; Razali et al., 1997). Nevertheless, more appropriate and effective mechanisms should be instituted to improve water resource planning and development of catchment and watershed areas to ensure continuous adequate and clean water supply. Modern technologies such as remote sensing and GIS should be used in combination with water quality models for effective river and catchments management. At the industry level, more stringent standards should be introduced which require the installation of effective waste-water treatment. All industries and business centers should be required to submit monthly reports of their effluents to the environmental authority. In the case of ground water, new regulations should be developed to safeguard water quality and regulate usage.

### Water resource management

Domestic and industrial water demand is expected to grow to 3.7 billion m3 by the year 2000 from 2.6 billion m3 in 1990 (JICA, 1982). There are 54 dams in operation in Malaysia with a total capacity of 12 billion m3 yr− 1 (Hamirdin, 1997). The amount of water stored in dams constitutes only a small percentage of the total runoff available in a year (566 billion m3 yr− 1). River systems are estimated to contribute about 97% of the raw water supply source (Keizrul and Juhaimi, 1997). The search for an adequate supply of water will necessitate the building of dams and increased use of groundwater. It is envisaged that any new water supply development will require heavy investment because of more limited and remote sources, larger reticulation systems and higher cost of treatment. In this regard, watershed areas must be protected to ensure that their potential use is not jeopardized. State governments should coordinate efforts to prevent excessive groundwater exploitation and river pollution.

### Biological diversity

Aquatic biological diversity in Malaysia has not been extensively explored and studied. Efforts should be intensified to document the species that exist and strengthen the conservation of biodiversity through storage of germ-plasm in gene banks (Tan and Yusoff, 2002). Critical habitats, such as mangroves, peat swamps, sea-grass beds and coral reefs which are not adequately represented among existing protected areas, should will be identified and declared for protection.

### Development and adaptation of new concepts and technologies

New technologies should be developed and adopted for the conservation and sustainable development of aquatic resources and its environment. Water should no longer be considered an infinite resource and measures should be taken to conserve it. For example, all buildings should be designed and constructed to collect rainwater which could be used for washing, bathing and other industrial purposes. ‘Grey’ water from large buildings like hotels, should be recycled and used for all purposes which do not require quality water, such as flushing toilets. Similarly, other ventures such as aquaculture and recreational activities that depend heavily on the use of water supply should adopt conservation measures through water recycling technologies.

In addition to conserving natural resources, new approaches and technologies should be considered to reduce pollution. One of the major constraints for aquatic pollution control in the country is the high cost of waste treatment which is unaffordable by the small and medium scale industries. For example, if the standard for BOD was to be lowered to 20 mg l−1, only 9% of the rubber processing factories would comply with this new criteria (Nordin and Mohd Zin, 1997). Therefore, it is suggested that these industries should be grouped together, based on their commodities and/or activities, and share the effluent treatment processes. To realise this end, the government has to enforce stringent standards on the effluent from all the industries.

Government should work closely with the private sectors and give priority for research and development funding to enhance the development of new technologies that are cheaper and efficient. For development of new technologies and adaptations for various purposes, the engineers, architects, (including landscape architects), town planners, must work closely with aquatic scientists/environmentalists to produce a harmonious environment in which the natural resources are sustainably exploited.

### Research and monitoring

Research and monitoring of aquatic habitats and their resources are required for adequate planning and management strategies. In 2002, the Department of Environment Malaysia had a total of 927 monitoring stations on 120 major rivers, 79 wells, and 219 marine stations (including islands) (DoE, 2003). Additional monitoring stations should be placed in major reservoirs and swamps. Declaration of Lake Bera in Pahang and its surrounding areas of 260 km2 as a reserve for conservation purposes in 1994 should serve as a model of sustainable wetland management for other sites in Malaysia (Hall, 1997). Furthermore, institutions should be encouraged to conduct research on developing inexpensive technologies for prevention of aquatic pollution.

## Summary and conclusions

Malaysia has rich aquatic ecosystems supplying vital resources such as water, food, medicine, energy and transport for economic and social development of its people. The ubiquitous and abundant supplies of these resources in the past have resulted in minimal concern about their conservation and sustainable exploitation. However, these aquatic ecosystems and their resources are threatened by human activities such as overexploitation of living aquatic resources, massive land reclamation and development, discharge of harmful industrial and domestic waste, and large energy development projects. Threats to the sustainability of these resources in the form of land-based and sea-based pollution are becoming serious and have affected the health and wealth of the people. The manifestations of the disregard to the aquatic environment are already obvious as seen by the frequent reports on water shortage, polluted rivers and seas, decrease in some fisheries commodities, decline of aesthetic values in water-based recreational areas and decrease in biodiversity. Various laws and regulations have not been able to deter some of these ecosystems from being continually exploited on unsustainable basis. Concerted effort from all quarters is seriously necessary around the state of the aquatic ecosystems such that their resources continue to provide life necessities for generations to come.

The commitment of every individual to protect the environment is a critical element in strengthening the foundation of the country's sustainable development. All departments in the government as well as in private sector should develop policies, strategies and program on environmental education, awareness and training which should be part of their organizations plans and objectives. Environmental ethics and a sense of responsibility should be included at all levels, and the population should be encouraged to take an active role in the protection and maintenance of the environment. With greater awareness on the importance of aquatic resources and the serious social and economic implications due to pollution, the Department of Environment has to take more rigorous steps to minimize threats on aquatic environment by imposing adequate penalties and legal action on the offenders. Non-Government Organizations should play a bigger role in promoting habitat conservation among the public, and especially the policy makers who are involved in the protection and management of aquatic environment and its resources. With the current trend of privatizing services to various consortiums for better control and management of the environment, it is crucial that these services are properly implemented.

In tandem with Malaysia's rapid economic growth, several institutional mechanisms and programs should be put in place to combat aquatic environmental pollution, as well as conserve its resources. The Government should give a higher priority to providing more research funds to research institutions for the development of cleaner technology. The Government should also strive to maintain a balance between growth objectives and environmental concerns. Preventive steps such as the early use of efficient and cost-effective pollution control measures through research efforts and the acquisition of clean technology should be implemented to achieve desired level of pollution abatement. These efforts by the Government should be complemented and supplemented by investments from the private sector to achieve a clean, healthy and productive aquatic environment for both present and future generations.

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